Santa Clara political hopefuls contend for city council positions
THE SANTA CLARA
October 20, 2016
Candidates running for Santa Clara’s City Council engaged in a lively—and at times heated—debate Wednesday night in the hopes of garnering electoral support. Approximately 75 people turned out for the event.
On Oct. 18 in Locatelli Student Activity Center, members of the campus community and local residents gathered to hear candidates’ stances on neighborhood-University relations, the Levi Stadium controversy, race relations, sustainability, Measure B and campaign conduct.
Neil Datar, Associated Student Government’s senate chair, introduced the candidates and explained the rules of the debate. Candidates had up to 60 seconds per answer and limited use of red challenge cards to respond to an opponent.
Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, introduced Measure B early on in the evening. It is a ballot proposal for a half-cent tax raise over the next 30 years to allow the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority to fund transportation projects such as the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) extension, road improvement and increased safety for pedestrians and cyclists.
The majority of candidates voiced support for the measure due to its commitment to traffic reduction and sustainability. However, a few candidates had reservations.
City council candidate Anthony Becker compared approving the measure to “writing a blank check” and “giving a mouse a cookie.” Also voicing concern was candidate Tino Silva who said that Measure B does not resolve traffic concerns as BART “doesn’t get people to the front door of their job.” Instead, he proposed a county-wide Uber service.
In order to improve student and neighborhood relations, candidates proposed a plethora of options including increased student involvement and more options for student housing.
As a neighbor of Santa Clara students who live off campus, candidate Suds Jain expressed concern about instances of disrespectful student behavior—from loud parties to littering—and acknowledged the importance of neighborhood ambassadors.
Candidate Mohammed Nadeem, a local businessman and parent of a Santa Clara student, worried about off-campus housing options for students due to high prices and limited availability.
The debate remained cordial until the subject of Levi Stadium was introduced, igniting a discussion about the relationship between the Levi Stadium Authority and the City of Santa Clara. In 2010, Santa Clara voters approved Measure J, which funded the construction of Levi Stadium and created the Levi Stadium Authority.
The oversight committee, created in partnership with the San Francisco 49ers, has been accused of money laundering and wrongdoing in recent years.
Pat Mahan, former mayor of the City of Santa Clara, said the Levi Stadium project was the “best deal a city has ever made in NFL history” and insisted that “there (was) no evidence of wrongdoing.”
Silva rebutted, saying that the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury strongly recommended an audit due to potential mishandling of stadium money.
Candidates continued to disagree and Mahan urged constituents to read the Grand Jury’s report on the issue.
On the topic of special interests and anonymous campaign money contributions, candidates were on the defensive.
“Campaign finance reform is needed at the national level, as well as the local level. Personally speaking, I am running a very ethical and honest campaign,” said candidate Raj Chahal. “I’m not running for PAC A, I’m not running for PAC B. I’m running for the residents of Santa Clara.”
Silva questioned Mahan’s campaign conduct by asking why her name was allegedly listed on the website of democratic special interest group, Blue PAC, despite her claim that she is opposed to the group.
“What you are witnessing is Santa Clara’s political theater,” said candidate John McLemore. “Some people are saying that some of us are directly connected to this Blue PAC. It’s an independent expenditure group.”
The candidates discussed the city’s expansion projects and Santa Clara’s strategic plan, which includes the construction of a new law school building, residence hall and STEM complex.
Also in the plans is an increase in the size of the student body.
“We’re going to be adding about 30,000 people to Santa Clara in the next 20 years,” Jain said. “Silicon Valley relies very heavily on having great universities from which to draw out employees. We need to support universities.”
On the contrary, candidate Kevin Park expressed his concern for the potential increased housing needs this could cause.
“You don’t put meat in the closet because that’s where you have space. You put meat in the refrigerator and if you don’t have space in the refrigerator, then maybe you shouldn’t be buying more meat,” Park said. “More housing isn’t going to solve the problem if companies grow at the rate that they do.”
When the conversation moved toward race relations, tensions stirred—especially with reference to Colin Kaepernick’s recent decision to kneel during the national anthem as a political statement against police brutality.
“Santa Clara is a diverse city with a rich mix of people from everywhere in the world, people of all faiths and orientations,” Mahan said. “Institutional racism is often subtle and needs to be called out and to be recognized.”
Mahan also said that there is a flyer in circulation that negatively depicts candidates of color. She described it by saying that the candidates of color are on the black side of the paper, along with those who support them. On the light side of the flyer, Mahan said, are the remaining candidates surrounded by flowers.
Silva disagreed that the flyer contained any overt racism.
“This is so far-reaching it’s ridiculous. You take two shades of colors and you automatically assign racism to it,” Silva said. “That’s one of the fundamental problems we have in our society. We don’t talk about solutions. We don’t come together.”
Candidate Teresa O’Neill said that Kaepernick has engendered a discussion on racial issues on both the national and international level. She suggested a forum to discuss these kinds of “polarizing” issues.
The debate concluded with a conversation on how to make the City of Santa Clara more sustainable.
“We must ensure that Santa Clara natives who love and cherish our city receive the education that can get them into positions of businesses where they can strive for success and innovation in our home city,” said candidate Markus Bracamonte.
Despite differing opinions, candidates expressed their commitment to improve the city and mobilize citizens in the process.
“We live in a great country where we can have freedom of speech,” Nadeem said. “We have to facilitate, involve and engage conversation at the local level.”
The 14 candidates will vie for four open spots on the Nov. 8 ballot.
More information about the candidates and local election can be found on the City of Santa Clara website.
Contact Bella Rios at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.